Unions prohibited from processing salary information

15 April 2009

Marie Englund, Ida Smed Sörensen

A county administrative court has decided that a trade union, Byggnads (the Swedish Building Worker’s Union), may no longer review or process the salary information of workers who are not members of its organisation. On 17 December 2007, the Data Inspection Board decided that Byggnads should cease all processing of personal data relating to workers who are not members of the organisation.

The Data Inspection Board’s decision centred on an employer who had previously been obliged to submit personal data about its employees to a local department of Byggnads. The data submitted included each employee’s personal identity number, name, salary statement, hours worked, salary pay dates, monthly salary and deductions.

According to the Swedish Personal Data Act (the “PDA”), personal data may only be processed if the data subject has given his/her consent or if the processing is necessary in accordance with any of the exceptions stipulated in the PDA. The Data Inspection Board, ordered Byggnads to stop processing this data as none of the PDA exceptions applied, and no employee consent had been obtained. Byggnads subsequently lodged an appeal and the appeal was heard by the county administrative court.

The county administrative court found that, although collective wage agreements have a special standing within the Swedish employment market, they are not agreements to which individual employees are parties and do not constitute legislation. Byggnads’ processing of employees’ personal data would not fall within an exception for fulfilment of any contract or legal obligation or to protect vital interests. Further, the court found that Byggnads’ interest in processing the data did not outweigh the interests of the non-member employees’ in protecting their privacy. The county administrative court found that no exceptions under the PDA were applicable and rejected the appeal.

The decision may be subject to an appeal to a higher court.